Remembering that holiday spirits range from fluffy, happy clouds to dark nights

“Happy” artist Bob Ross is more popular than ever as we cross into 2023! Amazon is selling Bob Ross calendars; is streaming 31 seasons of Bob Ross’s TV shows via its FreeVee service; and is selling Happy Clouds socks like the ones Ben Pratt enjoys.


For millions, the simple joys of the season are muted by somber memories.

Acknowledging those Dark Nights Helps with Healing

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of A Guide for Caregivers

The setting—a restored 11th Century San Fedele Monastery, Chianti Region, Italy. We were gathered on a terrace with new acquaintances, wine, awaiting dinner before an evening of live jazz under the stars.

The socks—pale blue with puffy clouds, the words Happy Clouds, and the face of a smiling man with curly black beard and hair. I wore the socks because of their funky nature that contrasted with this unique setting and sterling location—suspecting they might break the ice and lead to an interesting conversation among strangers.

The results—far beyond my expectation.

Megan, a young woman, probably in her thirties, moved close and said, “You’re wearing Bob Ross socks.”

“I think you are correct,” I responded.

Her next words jolted me: “After my twin brother suicided, I tuned in to Bob Ross reruns every day because it was the only thing I could watch without crying.”

My immediate response, non-verbal, conveyed a look of compassion and concern. Then I said, “I would be very willing to hear more if you wish to tell me.”

She told me the bare bones reality that she suspected led to his decision, and then more about the devastating impact on her.

Perhaps you share the questions that flow from a conversation like that one: How do we travel this spiritual journey of grief? Or, how can we heal from a broken heart? As we approach the holidays we are mindful that grief is often more intense in this time of family gatherings when the absence of one can be most obvious.

First, I need to say that grieving takes far more time than we anticipate in our world of K-cup coffee and e-mail. The grieving process isn’t fast. The duration for grieving may be in direct proportion to the intensity of the loss, and, therefore, is quite personal. As Shakespeare tells us through Othello: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” The stages through which we must journey toward healing can be shock, anger, guilt, depression, bargaining, and then maybe healing acceptance.

Losses caused by sin, another’s violation of us or our violation of another, are the most difficult to heal because these involve forgiveness. Forgiveness is the ability to give up hope of a different past. It requires a different memory.

Options for surviving loss include burying yourself with your talents in the small room of safety or making a trusting leap of faith back into the unknown, just as Megan was doing by participating in JazZen Journey at San Fidele.

Do we stay on the bench or do we get back into the game?

Either way, it is a cost and a promise! We need to live into the hope that the risk is worth the promise of trust and joy.

Now, let me tell you a story from literature that illustrates the issue of loss and risking. (I suspect my choice of literature may surprise some of you.) This illustration comes from a novel, not from the movie which has little to do with the book. The writings of Ian Fleming, namely the James Bond, 007 series, are some of the most important religious narratives of the 20th century, in my opinion.

Listen as I tell you a story about loss and risking from James Bond. James Bond was married only once. His wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding. Bond began to lose his edge. He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking and eating too much, gambling and losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by a psychiatrist-neurologist named Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite understandable. Then he says the thing that captured my attention: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster.

It’s probably different for all of us: loss of a child, physical or psychological abuse, robbery at gunpoint, betrayal of a close friend, imprisonment, cancer, losing a pet, shaming oneself in front of friends. When we go over the top of our disaster limit, we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place.

Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do—but that is what Sir James Malony prescribes. And then Sir James says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is “We must give him an impossible job.”

In contrast to suggesting a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.” So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. Bond himself could have been a candidate, since he had lost faith. Instead he is sent to risk facing and destroying it.

The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his wounds. Yes, this is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward can come after we have done the painful interior work of feeling loss. This is why most hospice programs will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.

Eventually, however, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in oneself, which feels like an impossible risk.

Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward
to give generously and with gratitude to others.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.”

Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many.

Our wounds may become a source of meaning for others also.The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.

My deep appreciation of music has a wide perspective. Willie Nelson wrote the following slow and sentimental song with his longtime co-producer, Buddy Cannon. The producer explained the genesis of this song lay in his overhearing Nelson consoling a friend who had lost a loved one.



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Care to read more?

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]

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Benjamin Pratt: Remembrance of things past through a pilgrimage with old friends

With two of my fraternity brothers: Jim on the left and Bob on the right.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The great memoirist Marcel Proust described the mysterious power of human memory as if past souls were waiting for us almost everywhere, hoping we might pass by and stir them to new life. That might happen during a walk in the woods, Proust said, or by revisiting earlier elements of our lives, perhaps as simple as a cup of hot tea and little piece of cake. Such a little taste, one day, is what unlocked Proust’s more-than-4,000-page memoir, Remembrance of Things Past. This week, our online magazine is sharing a Cover Story with Tina Welling, who has developed life-changing “journaling” workshops with inmates. And we are sharing Howard Brown’s story of honoring a friend who died last year by planting trees. The third part of this triptych of memory is Benjamin Pratt’s story about a pilgrimage with friends back to the campus where they met.

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A Reunion: Memories, Bitter and Sweet

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By BENJAMIN PRATT

“That’s our ol’ ‘necking’ tree—right there in the shade of the chapel. We kissed for the first time while I was holding her close and leaning against that tree. Wow, 62 years ago—no wonder the tree is much bigger than I remembered. I still keep pinching myself when I realize how fortunate I am to have found Judith and been married for 59 years. Amazing, really amazing.”

This is where I serenaded my wife-to-be after we became “pinned.” Judith stood at the windows above the door, backed by her sorority as I was backed by my fraternity brothers.

I mumbled this to my friends at our college reunion.

Recently, we made a collective pilgrimage deep into our memories, a journey that turned out to be revelatory, tender, tough and filled with gratitude. I returned to my college with two of my closest friends who also had graduated 60 years ago. Bob drove to northern Virginia from Connecticut. Then, the three of us drove to western Pennsylvania. Bob, Jim and I were suite mates one college year. Then, I became a Resident Advisor, living with freshmen in their dorm, and that separated our threesome.

Jim and I revisited the spot where we had met 64 years ago. Our parents had just dropped us off: two disconnected, lonely, uncertain guys who were entering a new and very unfamiliar world. I had seen him standing alone, looking quite forlorn, so I walked over and said hello! We both remembered the exact spot on that huge quad. Now, here we are again, and still friends. A very sweet memory.

We all had joined one of the local fraternities, and now it was observing its 100th anniversary. We octogenarians found our time together to be delightful, eye-opening and tinged with some sad realities. I was jolted to realize how quickly I remembered names but could not conjure up that person because of facial and body changes. In addition to learning of friends’ deaths, we heard that the one man who had been keeping all of us connected had recently been sidelined by a stroke. Harry had eagerly looked forward to this reunion, only to be prevented from attending by his debilitating health. The ravages of time were visible in our bodies and faces. Yet this was not so with the ol’ campus. Some buildings were gone, replaced by attractive, state-of-the-art structures conducive to learning. It looked wonderful!

I played four years of college basketball. The stadium looks just as I remembered it except that the floor was so highly polished I could have skated on it. That stadium brought back many memories. For some unknown reason there were no upperclassmen on the team during my first year. When Westminster College came to our court with three starters who had played while in the Marines, they had us 18-0 before we scored. Not a good night! I remembered the night I held Slippery Rock’s lead scorer to eight points by constantly blocking his fade away jump shots! That was long before I wore contacts—and my glasses were smashed into my eye. And, oh yes, the painful Christmas practices. Everyone else was on break for the season, but we were there practicing, practicing, practicing—preparing for a holiday tournament.

I am so grateful for these remembered opportunities, experiences, and adventures, especially from my college years, that were enriched by dear friends and the wonderful woman, Judith, who became my partner in life. I returned to the spot where I first met her, as well as the patio from which I serenaded her in front of her dorm. I shall never forget the first time I saw her and felt an electric shock go through my body! I knew something exceptional was happening.

So many memories of the past!

While a college student, I felt the calling to enter the ministry. My decision to commit to the ministry allowed me to borrow money from the church to be paid back by years of service. Also, during this time, I became a voracious reader—a lover of books and stories.

These memories and others help me know who I am.

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]

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‘What did you do this summer?’ Benjamin Pratt sends us postcards from his JazZen Journey

Illustration generated by AI via DALL-E 2


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Healing our divisions through jazz and Zen

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ONE OF THE JOYS OF FALL, since the first days of school in our childhoods, has been the question: “What did you do this summer?” Well, this summer, the answers from our community of writers have been quite inspiring!

So, this week, we are featuring what we might describe as colorful postcards sent to us by Benjamin Pratt as he and his wife Judith traveled in the hills of Tuscany through a unique pilgrimage program called JazZen.

Please, if you enjoy this story, share it with friends—and consider sending us your own inspiring letter from the road.

 


Friends!

Here we are outside Borgo San Fedele, an 11th Century Italian Monastery, restored over eight years of meticulous labor and attention to every detail by the owners, Nicolo and Reneta. Borgo San Fedele, located on a hill in the heart of Chianti between Siena and Florence, is immersed in nature and tranquility. 


JazZen Journey is in its eighth year under the direction of Andrea Minick Rudolph and Steve Rudolph. Guests, most from the United States, delight in the beauty of the area, food and wine of the Tuscan region of Italy and jazz each evening by Steve Rudolph and his instrumental guests from many regions of Europe. This week-long journey serves many personal needs of the sojourners: the opportunity to meet new friends, the spiritual deepening of one’s own life, the continued healing of loss of a loved one. All this and more happens within the beauty of the region, the community formed with new companions and old friends, and the enjoyment of delicious food, wine, laughter, tears and Jazz under the stars. Our daily schedule begins with guided meditation by Andrea, an ordained Zen Buddhist Priest (Osho) and a Cognitive Behavioral based Mindfulness Counselor. Following breakfast, visits are offered in the Chianti region of Tuscany, followed by a long leisurely lunch including wine tastings. Afternoons offer opportunities for hiking, swimming in the fresh or salt water pools, or siesta.



After dinner, dessert is served along with Jazz under the stars organized by Steve Rudolph, jazz pianist and educator. Each evening I observed how jazz underscores the basics of healing the divisions in our polarized society. Each piece of music begins with the community of musicians playing together. Then at some point each individual has the opportunity to lift his/her voice above the others but usually with the community supporting the single voice. Then, the piece concludes with the whole community playing together again. It is not only a musical experience but an example for healing our divided people. 


For me these evenings were magical, mystical moments of joy, vibrating with hope that we like these musicians, who come together often as strangers can make music that underscores the possibilities that strangers can rise together to create community that blesses all of us. Let us strive to listen to the community as a whole and value individual voices in spite of differences.

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]

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Reflecting on Holy Week and Easter with Ian Fleming, James Bond and Benjamin Pratt

ENDANGERED HOLY SITES IN UKRAINE—This photograph shows the interior of St. George’s Church in western Ukraine, one of the region’s uniquely hand-crafted wooden churches. It is part of a cluster of 16 surviving wooden churches in western Ukraine and Eastern Poland that now are considered a World Heritage Site. Built in the late 1400s, St. George’s in Drohobych is one of the oldest and best-preserved timber churches of Galicia. Because Russia has targeted relatively few bombing raids on western Ukraine, this particular religious masterpiece so far has not been damaged. (NOTE: If you care to share this image of St. George’s with others, Wikimedia Commons makes this photograph by “Moahim” easy to share. You will find more photos of this church below.)

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From Good Friday’s ‘No!’ to Easter Sunday’s ‘Yes!’

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EDITOR’s NOTE: Over many years, author, pastor and counselor Benjamin Pratt has talked with Christian communities about the deep drama that unfolds in what Christians call Holy Week, the observances leading up to Easter. Sometimes, as in this column, he draws on illustrations from his literary research into the moral lessons in the novels of Ian Fleming.

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By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins

Bond, James Bond 007 was married only once. Then, in one of the most shocking turns in the course of Ian Fleming’s novels—Bond’s wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding.

Bond began to lose his edge: He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking, eating too much, gambling, losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by psychiatrist-neurologist Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite appropriate. Then, he concluded with the startling line: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Everyone of us has a top to disaster. As we are seeing in the ruined streets of Ukrainian cities, that trauma varies widely: the death of a child, rape, torture, loss of a home. In our own country, during this pandemic, so many of us have lost jobs and homes, suffered from life-threatening conditions from COVID to cancer.

When we go over the top of our disaster limit we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place. Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do.

But, Sir James Malony says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is We must give him an impossible job.  In contrast to our thought that he should take a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.”

So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. (Bond could have been one of those who had gone to kill himself since he had lost faith. Instead he has come to risk facing and destroying it.)  The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his own wounds.  (Yes, it is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.)

How is this relevant to our journey toward Easter in 2022?

Christians around the world are entering Holy Week, which contains the three most important days of the Christian calendar. Holidays focus on history. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.

Now, in Holy Week, everything converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim at Easter. On Good Friday we experience the top of disaster, recalling how Jesus was tacked to a tree—his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings resurrection—in this life and the next.

We might think of Friday as the day of “No!” As we personally experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That “No!” breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.

Saturday is “I don’t now.” We move—as Jesus’s followers did 2,000 years ago—into a soft cynicism or despair. We can’t stay in Friday’s intense pain, but we haven’t reached Easter’s joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can’t mourn; we can’t celebrate; we don’t sing Alleluias. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie—a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.

And, Sunday? “YES!” We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51)

Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward comes after we have done the painful interior work of feeling our loss. You may be aware that hospice will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.

Eventually, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in ourselves in what feels like an impossible risk.

Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward to give generously and with gratitude to others.

This year, many Christian churches will be including prayers and other symbolic signs of our solidarity with the people Ukraine who continue to suffer seemingly endless cycles of violence.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.” Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many of us.

Our wounds may become a source of beauty and meaning for others also. The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.

Let me illustrate by the story of a real life James Bond—a sheet metal worker named Michael Flocco. Michael and his wife had only one child. He was killed when the plane went into the Pentagon on 9/11. It was an over the top disaster experience. Michael stopped going to work, he sat at the kitchen table every morning looking at the family photo album which contained pictures of his son. He started with coffee but by lunch he was hitting hard liquor to drown his pain and grief. One day, Michael’s wife saw an ad for sheet metal workers needed to repair the Pentagon. She cut it out and placed it in the family album. That morning Michael found the ad and called his boss and told him he wanted to go to work at the Pentagon repairing the building. Michael’s choice to work repairing the very building where is son was killed must have felt like an impossible job. It became the place he began to heal his soul and recover his life.

It became a place for Easter Joy!

Exterior of St. George’s church. (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior of St. George’s church in Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Care to learn more?

Read the other related columns …

This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:

RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).

RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).

MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).

REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).

And for more on Benjamin Pratt …

VISIT BENJAMIN PRATT’S AMAZON PAGE: Go to his author page and you’ll learn more about him, plus you’ll see links to three of his books.

Get a copy of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass from Amazon.

Benjamin Pratt writes: “I have been bewildered by the staying power of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. It was not until I began reading and studying Fleming’s ‘Bond, James Bond,’ that I was convinced that Bond was a knight out to slay these contemporary dragons threatening our lives. All of Fleming’s 007 tales follow a common theme that he identified in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, as parables about evil people. Fleming’s stories have considerable mythological, allegorical and theological depth that are compelling to this day. Fleming found most of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins to be closer to virtues in contemporary culture.

While an editor on the staff of the Sunday Times, Fleming suggested the famous London-based newspaper publish a series of essays on the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Fleming later saw that this collection of essays was published as a now out-of-print book called simply, The Seven Deadly Sins. In his Foreword to that volume, Fleming lays out seven modern deadlier sins, a list that turns out to be a roadmap to his overarching intention for writing the James Bond novels. Fleming’s modern sins that will send people to Hell are: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice.

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Benjamin Pratt on the Wonders of Life Along the Shore

Photograph by Benjamin Pratt.

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Strand Feeding: Life in Community

By BENJAMIN PRATT

One of the basic tenets of ReadTheSpirit is that we live better in community than in isolation. In 2007, on the day this publishing house was founded, 10 Principles of Publishing were posted, including:

Principle 4: It’s about connection, not competition. Our voices should call people together, not separate them.

I have been a part of this community since before that first day and I can tell you: For 15 years, we have been building community. Many authors of these columns are sharing ideas and encouraging each other in a collaborative way, convinced that the ache in our American soul is due to the tension between believers in individuality and believers in communities.

Some Bottlenose Dolphins live this truth.

Everywhere in the world, the moon and the tide change constantly. The Low Country of South Carolina includes Kiawah and Seabrook among other communities that are laced with vast marshes layered with reeds, brackish waters, fish and other marine life including alligators, snakes and myriads of birds. Even dolphins are seen in marsh waters. It is a thriving eco-system.

One of the most common species of dolphins, the Bottlenose can live in most parts of the ocean, with the exception of Antarctica and the arctic. In the United States, these dolphins travel up and down the East Coast, from Maine to Florida as the seasons fluctuate. Bottlenose dolphins live in social groups, or pods, that consist of multiple generations. This may include grandparents, parents, children and their siblings. Offshore dolphins tend to live among hundreds of individuals. Whereas inshore, or estuarine, dolphins—such as the pods residing near Kiawah and Seabrook—tend to live in smaller groups. Members of pods spend their days playing, hunting, and exploring together. A dolphin’s main food sources consist of local species of fish, squid, octopus, jellyfish, and a variety of crustaceans. These dolphins are partial to sea trout, red drum and striped mullets that can be found in the tidal rivers that run into the Atlantic.

Bottlenose dolphins are common in this area. Like us, they are mammals; they breathe air and bear live young. They are generally slate gray to charcoal gray in color with a short and stubby rostrum, hence the name Bottlenose. Males can live 40-45 years while females live up to 60. They range in size from 6-9 feet and weigh 300 to 600 pounds. They typically swim 2-4 miles per hour but for brief periods can reach speeds of 20 mph. Dolphins can hold their breath as long as 5 minutes. They have up to 104 very sharp teeth.

Dolphins are extremely social creatures, generally forming pods of 2-15 individuals. There are three basic groups: maternity groups made up of females and their most recent calves; adolescent dolphins form mixed-sex juvenile groups until they are sexually mature; mature females often return to maternity groups and males form bachelor groups of strongly bonded pairs. The calves nurse 1 1/2 to 2 years and remain with their mothers for 3 to 6 years to learn survival skills. Mating season tends to peak in spring and fall but may occur at any time. Gestation averages 12 months. Calves weigh 25-40 pounds, are 3-4 feet long and are usually born tail first.

Bottlenose dolphins are opportunistic feeders. They eat a wide variety of fish species, usually in depths less than 10 feet. They are active both day and night. Dolphins listen passively for sounds produced by the fish they hunt but also use echolocation to find their prey.

Dolphins sometimes work together during feeding, using a variety of methods to entrap fish. Small groups may converge on a central point surrounding the fish, then tighten the circle until the fish are forced to the surface where the rest of the group is waiting to feed.

What is Strand Feeding among Dolphins?

At Seabrook Island, dolphins have been observed using a technique called strand feeding. Strand is the term used for the point where beach and water meet. The dolphins herd schools of fish onto a sloping sandy beach or mudflat, to seize their prey. Strand feeding, so-called because the prey fish are stranded on the shore, occurs along the East Coast only in South Carolina and Georgia, and has been reported in just a few other places around the world. A sophisticated form of hunting that involves teamwork, good communication and expert timing, strand feeding testifies to the intelligence and ingenuity of these extraordinary marine mammals. Underwater, small groups of two to six dolphins, sometimes more, herd fish tightly together into a “bait ball.” Then, forming a line, the dolphins accelerate to create a bow wave that forces their prey onto shore as they, close behind, surge out of the water in unison.

Recently, I’ve witnessed this communication/cooperation principle in nature through the communal nature of these Bottlenose dolphins. With camera in hand, I captured this unique event at low tide in Seabrook Island.

Keep in mind that not all dolphins know how to strand feed. Of the two pods of dolphins in this area, only one pod strand feeds. This behavior is passed from mother to calf. For reasons unknown to scientists, adult dolphins are not able to learn the feeding technique once they reach a certain age. Because of this, a little less than half of the island’s dolphin population can perform strand feeding. This delicate act is at risk of becoming extinct! It is hoped that through education and the dedicated work of people like Lauren Rust and her volunteers, this learned feeding behavior will be passed to future generations to experience.

Patricia P. Schaefer, in her book Dolphin Strand Feeding, says, “Dolphins communicate through clicks and whistles that we have yet to translate, echolocation and body language. They have developed a culture with tight social bonds and rituals to teach their young, such as blowing circular bubble walls to corral a school of fish.”

In 1965, Ian and Sylvia released “How Come We Can’t Talk To Each other Anymore?” That has been our theme song for far too many years. I think it is time to let the dolphins teach us: How We Can Talk and Work Together Once Again.

Thank you, Mother Nature.

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And, think about this …

List the members of your most important pod.

What are the most significant contributions to your life that you receive from your pod?

What do you wish you received from you pod that you do not?

How have you communicated this need to your pod?

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Care to learn more?

Here’s a short video shot in the same area where Ben wrote this story:

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

You can learn more about him, and all of his books, by visiting his Amazon author page.

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Did you know 007 is more than Bond girls, high-tech spycraft and hit songs?

Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass

A BIBLE STUDY WITH JAMES BOND?

Long before 007’s global appeal was defined by Bond girls, futuristic spycraft, exotic weapons and chart-topping theme songs, Ian Fleming hoped that his Bond series would have a far different focus. In fact, he wrote the series of bestselling spy novels as a wake-up call to people around the world about the deadliest sins plaguing our planet.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Surprising? Yes—but true.

In fact, one of Fleming’s central passions throughout his career—as a former spy, a famous journalist and finally a bestselling novelist—was urging the world to understand the deadly temptations that could destroy our global community.

Before he created James Bond, who became one of the world’s most popular media franchises, Fleming was best known as one of Britain’s top journalists. He was the foreign-desk manager for the news group that owned The Sunday Times, the UK’s largest-circulation newspaper. In that role, he oversaw the paper’s worldwide network of correspondents during the height of the Cold War; and he became convinced that journalists had a duty to alert their readers to the world’s looming dangers. So, he proposed that the newspaper commission a series of seven essays on the so-called Seven Deadly Sins—with each chapter written by one of Britain’s literary luminaries. His colleagues agreed. The essays appeared in The Times and later were bound as a book.

When that major project was finished, however, Fleming was disappointed by the scope of what the authors had written. He worried that those traditional seven deadly sins were not really the most troubling temptations circling our planet. Fleming was convinced that there were even deadlier sins, some of which were masquerading as virtues in our pop culture. Fleming was convinced that the deadliest temptations in our world actually were:

  1. Moral Cowardice
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Self-Righteousness
  4. Cruelty & Malice
  5. Avarice
  6. Snobbery
  7. And Accidie

Take a moment and read that list again. Is your head nodding? Fleming came up with this list more than half a century ago—but those seven deadliest sins certainly look like forces running rampant across the U.S. and around the world today. Don’t they?

How did Fleming plan to issue his worldwide alert to these dangers? Beginning in the early 1950s, Fleming wrote his James Bond novels as a series of gripping, page-turning parables showing how these seven deadlier sins could run amok—both among Fleming’s super-villains and within his 007 super-agent’s own heart, mind and soul.

To learn more about this adventure-story-within-an-adventure-story, we asked author Benjamin Pratt to tell about his own adventures with Fleming and Bond.

Benjamin Pratt on his own 13-year Bond Adventure:

Many of you have followed my analysis of the Bond tales since the release in 2008 of my book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass. Ian Fleming has generally been considered by critics as a light-weight author. I consider him a heavy-weight who has produced the first narrative treatment of the Deadly Sins in centuries following in the footsteps of Chaucer and Dante.

This all began when Ian Fleming suggested to his fellow editors at the London Sunday Times that they commission a series of essays on the traditional seven deadly sins. Fleming even suggested the authors he hoped would cover each of the seven sins. His fellow editors not only accepted his idea, they accepted six of the seven authors Fleming had suggested. But, Fleming was not satisfied. More was needed. He wrote that the traditional seven deadly sins will no longer keep us out of Heaven—and that there are seven deadlier sins that will get us into Hell.

Taking on this literary challenge himself, Fleming personified those seven deadlier sins as the evil characters Bond pursued—and in the temptations Bond encountered in his own life. The Bond tales are akin to the mythical tales of Saint George and the Dragon—with 007’s vocation ultimately aimed at slaying the world’s seven deadliest sins.

What’s the connection with Bible study in my book about Fleming’s Bond quest?

You won’t find a biblical connection explicitly detailed in Fleming’s novels—unless you can recognize the key he offers to his readers. I stumbled across it years ago while on a trip, staying overnight in a rustic cabin with a Gideon’s Bible that fell open to the Letter of James, which began with the words: “James a bondservant!” Then, I found that this is the same wording of that first verse of James in Fleming’s personal Bible—and I think this is where he chose the name James Bond. In addition, all the seven deadlier sins are in the Letter of James. Thus, my book is a Bible Study with James Bond.  Many groups have conducted this study and found it rich and challenging.

Join them!

 

 

Benjamin Pratt: Good Grief, Lucy! I thought you said, “Hug!”

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

In a decade of writing columns for ReadTheSpirit magazine—and several books for our publishing house—I have learned that our community of writers is blessed with what our friend Suzy Farbman likes to call GodSigns.

Last week, in the midst of a serious illness—no, it wasn’t COVID—I often thought of that classic image of Charlie Brown shouting “Good Grief!” That was pretty much my spiritual sentiment in the midst of my discomfort and sleepless nights. In fact, one night when I could not sleep, I wrote this column stream-of-consciousness and emailed it to Editor David Crumm.

“Perfect! So timely!” he emailed back.

“Really?”

“Yes, we’ve got a ReadTheSpirit Cover Story on Monday all about how much we need hugs these days, after more than a year in this awful pandemic,” David wrote back.

“I guess that fits,” I wrote back to David. “I’ll trust you, as always, to add a few final touches to have this all make sense.”

Then—as he often does—David dug deeper into that image of Charlie Brown shouting his favorite expression of anguish. And, here’s the GodSign—

We are coming up on the 70th anniversary, next summer, of the first time Charles Schulz put those two famous words in one of Charlie’s dialogue bubbles. You’ll be startled by the coincidence. Here is that original June 2, 1952, comic strip when Charlie utters those words for the first time:

Yes, indeed, there is a connection between what was rumbling around in my sleep-deprived, mid-cold meditations—and our common need for a good old fashioned hug.

But what’s so funny about that? Why have Charlie Brown’s chronic woes made us smile for so long?

The truth is: Life is as much about loss as it is about love and relationships, homes, health, jobs, dreams and all the other wonderful things that bring us joy.

Grief is the normal and natural response to such loss. Grief is that condition we experience when someone or something that matters deeply to us is no longer accessible in the way we want. Grief is painful, but grief also is good because it is the only way we can hope to move from our pain toward the “good” things we treasure such as love, joy, the capacity to risk, engagement, gratitude and generosity.

The refusal to mourn generally leads to bad results. The refusal to face loss leads to bitterness, anger, resentment, fear and attempts to excessively control.

So, I think Charlie Brown is correct. Grief really is good.

I am coming to the conviction that grieving—how we go about moving through losses and how we come to terms with life as it is given—may be the most important spiritual process in our lives. That’s especially true as we age, for as we get older and older the losses come faster and more varied.

Grieving involves the capacity to risk again and again, which is necessary if we hope to rediscover the many joys awaiting us in life.

‘How do we travel this spiritual journey of grief?’

How do we travel this spiritual journey of grief? Or, how can we heal from a broken heart?

First, we need to realize that grieving takes time—an especially hard truth to accept in our age of instant gratification. This process isn’t fast. The time for grieving may be in direct proportion to the intensity of the loss, and, therefore, it is quite personal. As Shakespeare tells us through Othello: “What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” The degrees through which we must journey to heal are often shock, anger, guilt, depression, bargaining, and then maybe healing acceptance.

Losses caused by sin—another’s violation of us or our violation of another—are the most difficult to heal, because these involve forgiveness. Forgiveness then becomes part of the grieving process. Forgiveness is the ability to give up the hope of a different past. Forgiveness is freeing. It is well worth the difficult journey, because forgiveness holds the promise of freeing us to make a trusting leap of faith back into the unknowns of life.

We live our best lives when we dare to hope and risk again.

A Lesson from Ian Fleming’s Bond, James Bond

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

As much as Charles Shultz, the Bible and Shakespeare have shaped my life, I also continue to draw on the literary wisdom of Ian Fleming. And, please note that my own book about Fleming’s spiritual reflections is inspired by his novels, not the movies that always have strayed widely from the original texts.

In Fleming’s cycle of 007 novels, James Bond actually was married—only once and very briefly.

Bond’s wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding. Shattered by grief, Bond began to lose his edge: He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking, eating too much, gambling, losing his sense of mission.

His boss, M, has Bond examined by a psychiatrist/neurologist named Sir James Malony. This all unfolds in the novel You Only Live Twice. Finally, Malony reports to M that Bond is in shock and that his behavior is quite appropriate.

Then he says the thing that captured my attention: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”

Shocking! Yes, but true. For all the commonplace reassurances that “life will never give you more than you can handle”—in fact, there is no limit to disaster or to grief.

Then, equally as shocking is Sir James Malony’s prescription for Bond: “We must give him an impossible job.” In contrast to our thought that he should take a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.”

So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his own wounds. Yes, it is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.

Turning Outward to Heal

Let me be clear that I am not Sir James Malony—and I would never urge a person I was counseling to get over their grief by immediately throwing themselves into some grand mission. We do need to reach the point of turning outward, but only after we have done the painful interior work of feeling our loss. Talk with friends who have been involved with hospice services. They will tell you that volunteers are not accepted to serve in hospice programs if they are not at least one year away from a significant death among their own loved ones.

Grief takes time, but the outcome we hope eventually will be that outward turning, once again.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.”

Let me close with a song prayer that captures the tension of longing for safety and yearning to embrace the promise of the future. This song, written by Julie Miller in 1993, was sung by Juliet Turner at the memorial service in Omagh, Northern Ireland, following the market place bombing that killed 29 and injured hundreds.

Broken Dreams

You can have my heart though it isn’t new
Its been used and broken
and only comes in blue
It’s been down a long road
and it got dirty along the way
If I give it to you will you make it clean
and wash the shame away

You can have my heart
if you don’t mind broken things
You can have my life
if you don’t mind these tears
Well I heard that you make old things new
so I give these pieces all to you
If you want it you can have my heart

So beyond repair nothing I could do
I tried to fix it myself but it was only worse
when I got through

Then you walked into my darkness
and you speak words so sweet
and you hold me like a child
till my frozen tears fall at your feet

You can have my heart
if you don’t mind broken things.

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Based near Washington D.C., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Before COVID struck, he travels widely to work with groups, conferences and other events. Even in the pandemic, he continues this work virtually. He has been a keynote speaker and is a veteran of designing workshops and weekend retreats, which he has conducted nationwide. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also is a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

His book, A Guide for Caregivers, has helped thousands of families nationwide cope with the wide array of challenges involved as more than 50 million of us serve as unpaid caregivers in the U.S. alone. In 2021, Ben will continue to write about caregiving issues for us.

His book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass, explores some of the themes in this week’s Holy Week column, including an in-depth look at Accidie.

If you find these books helpful, and if you suggest that your small group discuss these books, we would love to hear from you about your response, ideas and questions. Or, if you are interested in ordering these books in quantity, please contact us at [email protected]

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